I’ve been saving this picture. The strange thing is, I’d been looking for it for about four decades, since I saw it in National Geographic as a kid. I even searched for it online, once or twice. Then one day, it came across my Tumblr, out of the blue.
I was wanting to say something with it, about a legitimate place for beauty, and romance, in religious life– well, I’m not sure what I was planning to say. It was definitely deep. But anyway, I woke up this morning, and it occurred to me that I should post it today. I usually post a poppy picture, and some piece of WWI poetry on my other blog, mainly just for me to look at. I don’t know much about World War I, but even I know more than some people, and it’s always freaked me out a little how quickly such a perfect storm of horror could be forgotten– swept under the rug, even. When it was not only a catastrophe in itself, but the gateway to the 1984-like state of unending war we’re now apparently engulfed in.
When I was a kid, there were still WWI veterans downtown sometimes, selling artificial Flanders poppies. Otherwise, we don’t see much of that around here; our poppies are orange. But everyday life was flooded with WWII vets, like my dad, and while I’m sure there was some PTSD among them, they didn’t seem to spend a lot of time wondering what it was all for. They figured they knew that. War was hard, but not insane: you didn’t permanently lose your way in it– frankly, they tended to think war was a nice, straightforward answer to everything. Some things were worth fighting for, so you did what you had to do, even if it looked like it was jaw-droppingly brutal and crazy. Then good triumphed.
Look how old I am– I’m like a hundred years old, and I’m still not sure what I think. “Some things are worth fighting for” is a cliché, but sometimes I wonder if anything is worth fighting for. I remember reading that Dorothy Day said that maybe we would have the moral high ground if we had let the Ottomans overrun us, in the 17th century or whatever. I can’t really wrap my mind around that. Maybe it has to do with declining to fight against– then you have to be really clear about exactly what you’re holding out for.
I mean, it’s clear that a choice for non-violence doesn’t mean there’s not going to be violence. I’m always in awe of the kind of non-violent witness the Catholic Worker has presented to the war machine, over the years– plenty of violence involved there, they just changed its distribution. And Linda Maendel gives us this incredibly moving piece today on the Hutterite martyrs of World War I. I find it hard to imagine that kind of sustained courage. Non-violence draws violence and insanity to the surface. Is it transformative? I think you have to have a certain gift of faith to be convinced that it is, or even, to hope that it is.